The cottage was built in 1850-51 as an Under Gardener’s Cottage to the design of Henry Ginn, the Colonial Architect of the time, who was responsible for the earliest layout of the Gardens – on the east, near Anderson St.
The cottage was built as a symmetrical brick building of 3 rooms – a central day room flanked by bedrooms to the north and south. Two of these rooms still remain, and are used today as the kitchen and part of the Craft Room. There is a drop in the floor level as you move into the old part of the building, the brick rooms around which the back verandah has been built.
Although the main facade of the Cottage is rendered, the original warm-coloured handmade bricks are exposed under the verandah. These bricks are smaller than present day machine-made bricks, and are laid in English Bond as a solid nine inch wall without a cavity.
The bluestone foundation can be seen at the base of the walls against the brick paving. The steeply pitched slate roof, ornate chimneys, brick recesses, leadlight windows and decorative bargeboards are typical of a style of domestic architecture popular in England at the time. Other examples can be seen in the Melbourne suburbs of South Yarra and Hawthorn, but they are quite rare.
In 1898 the course of the Yarra River was altered, straightening out the original horseshoe bend and allowing the formation of Alexandra Ave and a wide riverbank. This work took the river much further away from the Gardens. Until this time the cottage was perched high on the riverbank. The evidence of this is still with us in the steep drop between the Cottage and the path below, and the exposed rock face immediately behind the building.
In the early 1900s the weatherboard extension, with its typical bull-nosed verandah and cast iron lace work was added, and this extension now forms the entrance to the Cottage. It was also at this time that the original northern bedroom wing was removed.
The Cottage was later known as the H Gate Lodge. It was occupied by Gardens’ staff until the mid 1970’s, but it fell into disrepair in the following years. Through the determination of a group of very interested people, the Lands Department was persuaded to save the building from demolition, and to allow it to be repaired and used as a plant craft study centre. The Lands Department, Royal Botanic Gardens and volunteers restored the Cottage to its present state, the surrounding garden was landscaped by the Gardens’ staff, and the Plant Craft Cottage opened in November 1981. The old brick rooms of the cottage now have National Trust classification.
The Plant Craft Cottage of today is a warm, thriving place, staffed by rostered volunteers, working to keep plant crafts alive and to maintain the historic building.